Feed the Winter habit

Jamie Harris
My name is Jamie. I am 33 years old and I am a fishaholic. Around this time every year when most trout waters have closed and the seafishing action slows, I get withdrawal symptoms. I mope around the house annoying the missus, playing all my home fishing DVD's from previous years, watching the weather forecasts intently hoping the swell might back off a bit on the West Coast so I could at least go and catch a blackback or two.

When a mate said to me the other day "the salmon are out at Strahan"  my ears pricked up. He was talking about atlantic salmon and rainbow trout escapees from the fish farms at Macquarie Harbour. There are varied opinions about how or why these fish escape, ranging from rogue sales or floating logs ripping cages or being released when the market slows. Whatever the reason, it makes for an awesome fishery when they are out in good numbers. The atlantics can be anywhere from a pound to 30 lb. Imagine catching that on the old 3kg spinstick! The rainbows are usually anything up to 10 lb. Strangely though the big "bows" are usually quite lazy on the rod and its not until they come to the net that you realize how big they are. On comparison, the atlantics will make blistering runs and jumps all over the harbour. While these fish may not be of the truly wild variety, their sheer size and condition makes them trophy fish in anyones language. Now before you go packing your gear and heading for Strahan I will say that these fish can also be very challenging. My best effort was just seven fish in a day. They may not come thick and fast but their size makes up for it. Half the battle is getting reliable information as to then the fish "escape". If you can do that and be there within a few days or so you should catch fish. Because Macquarie Harbour is such a huge expanse of water, the fish can show up just about anywhere. The best way to find them is to troll lures and cover as much water as possible. Study your sounder, work the edges of  sandbars or dropoffs and get in tight against the steeper rocky banks. When you find one, chances are there will be more close by so try a few passes or drift and cast the area for a while.
Much of the harbour is fairly shallow and I don't think I've caught a fish any deeper than about 4 metres of water. In saying this, I've had most success fishing the steeper rocky or gravely banks that run straight into the 2-3 metre depth. Shore fishing these same banks is also worthwhile. A miserable day in June last year saw me wading a favourite shore on Neck Island for two hours with no sign of a fish. Just when I thought I'd been given a bum steer I saw a big atlantic roll over within casting distance. This got the juices flowing again and over the next half hour I saw maybe a dozen fish, most within range. It was like someone had flicked a switch, however I still couldn't hook one. After a few choice words and bout six lure changes I was getting desperate. I tied on a No. 2 celta in gold with red stripes. I waded back out to my waist and three casts later my frustration turned to relief as the little celta was inhaled by a solid fish. For the next twenty minutes my 3 kg spin tackle was tested to its limit. After six or seven big jumps and runs the big salmon was finally beaten. I was actually a little disappointed when I pulled the fish from the net, I thought it had to be 20lb, it pulled the scales down to just 12 lb. My most recent trip produced the fish pictured. The rainbow had been out for some time and lost condition but at 5 lb, still a nice fish. The atlantic however went just over 18 lb, my best to date and another epic battle that I will never forget not to mention a fine feed of fish that sells for around $30 kg in fish shops.
Lure choice doesn't seem to matter much as long as it is flashy or an in your face colour and only dives to about a metre. After being fed pellets their whole life and then having to fend for themselves, after a few days they are ready to snap at just about anything. Lures I have had success with are Rapala Husky Jerks, Nilsmaster Invicibles, Cobras, Wonder Wobblers and Spoons. The old celta is a regular in my Strahan tackle now too, although I would not recommend trolling with it as they can cause some line twist. Soft plastics are also an option but traditional lures will probably account for more fish because of the faster rate of retrieve meaning more water covered, therefore giving a better chance of a hookup.
I always replace all my lure trebles with Gamakatsu chemically sharpened trebles as they never miss. Your standard 2-3 kg spin outfit is all you need to stop these fish. There are a few snags in the harbour and the light line will allow for longer casts and your lures will work at their optimum. Macquarie Harbour must be one of the few if not the only sheltered waters that is still open to netting day or night. I personally would like to see all netting banned outright. A good indication that there have been recent fish escapes is when you will see locals (and not so locals) nets dotted around the shores everywhere. They usually wade them out in only a metre or so of water. The fish seem to move into the shallower margins after dark and its not unusual to see 60 to 80 fish come from just one net. Enough to make us dedicated sportsfishers cry! There are boat launching facilities in town or follow signs to Macquarie Heads. It would be wise to go boating with someone who knows the area as there are many sandbars and channels to negotiate. If shore fishing is your thing any of the shores around the township are worth a look or follow the Heads road to the Swan Basin area where there are plenty of good wadable shores. If you need to feed your habit like me and are looking for something a little different give Strahan a go and maybe tangle with a gigantic atlantic.
Jamie Harris

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